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How direct action stopped Heathrow’s third runway

As mentioned last week, the new government in Britain announced that it would scrap plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, much to the delight of climate activists and Nimbys, who deserve most of the credit for their tireless activism. A piece in The Guardian explained how the campaign against the runway succeeded:

Indeed, what distinguished this whole campaign was the way in which it mobilised people into repeatedly taking direct action. Who will forget Leila Deen throwing green custard over Lord Mandelson, or those protesters rebranding the House of Commons as “BAA HQ” from the roof of the Palace of Westminster to highlight the government’s collusion with the air industry? John Stewart, the leader of the local residents group, HACAN, and the person who can take more credit than anyone for seeing off the runway says: “Direct action played an absolutely critical role in the campaign. Its edginess both dramatised the issues and plied new pressure on the authorities. It was when the Climate Camp came to Heathrow that the campaign literally went global.”

The most powerful tool in the armory of the critics of the runway was the fact that a movement existed, comprising all sectors of society. From the local residents and their councils, to WWF and the RSPB, through to Greenpeace, Plane Stupid and the Climate Camp. Working together they took on the combined might of British Airways, the CBI, and the government, and won. It was the galvanising of this coalition, which explains the success of the Heathrow campaign. The triumph now surely ranks alongside the stopping of Kingsnorth as one of the biggest victories for the British climate movement so far, and reminds me of something the founder of Greenpeace, Bob Hunter, said in 1978. “Big change looks impossible when you start and inevitable when you finish.”